by Mark Whitworth
I recently saw this quote, attributed to Bill McKibben:
“When we look at a solar panel or a wind turbine, we need to be able to see … that there’s something beautiful reflected back out of that silicon: People finally taking responsibility for the impact our lives have on the world and the people around us.”
When I see a wind turbine in Vermont, I see something different: I see Vermont’s contribution to The Sixth Great Extinction. The Fifth Great Extinction was caused by a meteor that hit the Earth 65 million years ago. It killed the dinosaurs.
We are responsible for the current extinction crisis. The United Nations says that human-caused habitat degradation is the number-one driver. Climate change is an accelerant, putting wildlife on the move only to find that humans have degraded potential destinations as well as the migration corridors.
Energy developers tell us that we must combat climate change by allowing them to erect giant wind turbines—lots of them. But, take a look at where they have built their Vermont wind projects: every single one of them is in forestland that our Agency of Natural Resources has designated “highest priority.” Developers have proposed additional major projects that would also have been built in highest priority forests.
You can read about the importance of these forests (and our other vital natural resources) in the Vermont Conservation Design, which is a plan to “sustain the state’s valued natural areas, forests, waters, wildlife, and plants for future generations.”
The Conservation Design is a masterful work that Vermonters who care about biodiversity and climate change should study. It identifies and prioritizes the waters and lands that are the most effective “for maintaining an ecologically functional landscape.” That is, a landscape that enables “plants and animals to thrive, reproduce, migrate, and move as climate changes” and is “fundamental to conserving biological diversity.”
The Conservation Design identifies Vermont’s highest priority forests—both interior forest blocks and the connective forest blocks that tie them together. It establishes a goal to “maintain the interior forest conditions that forest blocks provide by avoiding permanent interior forest fragmentation resulting from development.”
Yet, these highest priority forests—the very places that enable wildlife to adapt to a changing climate— are precisely the places that the wind industry targets for their projects.
Avoid fragmentation? How about clear-cutting, blasting, bulldozing, road-building, spraying herbicides, and installing noisy 500-foot-tall machines that have blades whose tips are moving at a couple hundred miles per hour? Does that sound like fragmentation?
According to ANR’s Vermont Forest Fragmentation Report, “the negative habitat effects of each residential building pocket within a forest radiate outward, affecting up to 30 additional acres.” If that’s true for a residence, just imagine how far the negative effects of a giant wind turbine radiate. Now imagine a string of these monsters.
Are these wind projects combating climate change? No.
Green Mountain Power claims that its Lowell turbines reduce our CO2 emissions by 74,000 tons per year. That’s the amount of carbon emitted by Metropolitan New York City traffic in less than half a day. And the carbon savings are even less than that when you consider the emissions of the gas plants that are running as “hot-backups” to compensate for the turbines’ intermittency.
So, when I see a wind turbine in Vermont, I don’t see the same things that Bill McKibben sees. I see the ruination of our last unspoiled places. I see the loss of the wildlife that relies on those places. I see our desperation to do something, anything, being exploited by the energy industry, which promotes a response to the climate catastrophe that is ineffective and that is worsening the catastrophe’s most disturbing impact: the collapse of biodiversity.
Sorry, Mr. McKibben, no matter how I squint at those turbines, all I see is our absolute failure to take responsibility for our impact on the world and the creatures that we share it with.
Mark Whitworth is the president of Energize Vermont, which advocates sensible energy and climate policies for Vermont. He lives in Newark.